Why Is April Fools Day In France Such A Fishy Affair?

How the French celebrate April Fools day in France

Surprise, in addition to the hot air balloon, the sexy little black dress, photography, the French also invented April Fools’ day by accident. Discover how this happened and how to properly celebrate it in France.

Past and present April Fools’ Day traditions in France

When I was a kid, I used to love playing pranks on friends and family for April fools’ day.

Silly things like putting a whoopee cushion under someone’s chair or some other ridiculously silly prank. Then after the prank was done, I gleefully shouted April Fools’”  as I scurried away laughing and looking for my next victim. Oh how I loved the annoyed looks on peoples faces.

Now as an adult and a confessed prank lover, I still love to play practical jokes on people for April fools’ so when we moved to France, I was not entirely sure if my pranks would go over well with the French. I wasn’t even sure if April Fools’ day was celebrated in France.

As luck would have it,  yes, April Fools’ day is in fact celebrated in France much like it is in the US and Canada with one small variation which involves a fish.

Present day April Fools’ traditions In France

On April fools day, kids in France like to tape a paper fish to the backs of their friends as a prank

Simple office pranks to elaborate hoaxes are just as much part of the French tradition for April Fools’ day as it is in the US and many other English speaking countries however, it’s not called April fools’ day.

Instead, those lucky victims who are fooled on April 1st are called a “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish) and a common prank, especially among school aged children is to stick a paper fish on the back of some unsuspecting person. Then when that person discovers the fish, he or she is declared a “Poisson d’Avril.”

This year, I drew a fish and stuck it on our daughters back before she went to school. When she got to school, her friends had a good laugh when they saw the fish taped to her back.

Print your own fish

printable paper fish for April Fools day in FranceYou can draw your own fish if you like but you can also print one out from the internet.  Here is a link to a printable paper fish from my favourite toy maker (Moulin Roty pictured above). http://www.moulinroty.fr/blog/poisson-davril/.  You can stick it on the backs of your friends and family for fun and let them walk around all day clueless.

Past April Fools’ day French traditions

At the beginning of the twentieth century, people in France used to send cute little illustrated post cards of small fish on April 1st, to wish love, friendship and happiness! A tradition that is not so popular today which is too bad because the vintage cards are adorable. Here are a few I found.

Old post card people used to send for April fools day in France

Old post card people used to send for April fools day in France

Why April 1st and where it all began!

The origins of playing pranks on April First is debated but one theory which many people believe is that April fools’ day actually began in France.

Around 1562, following the Gregorian calendar, King Charles IX decided to change the new year from the end of March / April (Equinox) to the 1st of January. Many people found it difficult to get used to the new day for the new year while others were not even aware that the date of the new year had changed! (news travelled slowly back then).  As a result, many people continued to offer gifts on the old new years date but were ridiculed, teased and had pranks played on them.

Voila, the beginning of April fools’ day in France which eventually spread throughout the world or so some believe this is how it was spread.

April Fools’ Day in the UK, North America and beyond

It wasn’t until around 1752, over 100 years later that Great Britain finally changed over to the Gregorian Calendar, and April Fools’ Day began to also be celebrated in England and in the American colonies. In Quebec Canada, an old French colony where my own family is from, the poisson d’Avril is celebrated much like it is in France.

Today April fools’ day is celebrated in many countries around the world including Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Canada and many more.

Why a fish on April first?

There are several explanations as to why the French equate a fish with April Fools’ day.

  • One explanation is that people gave fake fish to fisherman as a cruel but funny prank. Apparently April is the breeding period of fish and fisherman were prohibited from fishing during this time so the act of giving fish was a way to torture them? Who knows.
  • Another more recent and maybe more plausible explanation is that since the date of the old “New years”in April was also during the same time as lent, a period which people were only allowed to eat fish, people gave fish as gifts (for new years).

Vintage printable April Fish

There you have it. April fools’ day or rather poisson d’avril in France and it’s ties to the old New years date before the Gregorian calendar in France.

Isn’t it funny how we sometimes celebrate things but have no idea why we celebrate them?

ps

I love vintage design and thought you might like this vintage printable fish.  Happy Poisson d’Avril

3D printable fish for April fools day in France

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and FOUNDER OF THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE which features travel tips, food, festivals, photography and more from France. Annie currently lives in France with her husband and three children.

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